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Israeli Reservists Show Uncommon Bravery
12 February 2002
It's as if the first crocus of spring has somehow risen up in the hard, unyielding desert of the occupied territories - arid but for the spilt blood of generations of "enemies" and "martyrs."
Hope for peace is renewed in Israel - all because of the bravery of two reservist soldiers who dared to circulate this petition: "We shall not continue to fight beyond the 1967 borders in order to dominate, expel, starve and humiliate an entire people."
As of Monday morning, 230 combat officers and soldiers had added their names to the petition. Another 2,795 civilians declared their support on a second strongly worded document that said: "Since we understand that the missions of occupation and oppression do not serve Israel's defense, we express our solidarity with all those who refuse to engage in them."
Measured though such words might sound, they were a call to arms for Israel's sleepy left-wingers, its disheartened, disorganized peace lobbyists, inspiring more than 5,000 people from 25 grass-roots political organizations to gather in Tel Aviv on Saturday.
Distributing thousands of leaflets urging soldiers to refuse to serve in the West Bank and Gaza Strip - carrying banners saying, "Don't Say `I Didn't Know'" and "From Oslo to the Hague" - the protesters condemned the army's brutality toward Palestinians and demanded Israel's withdrawal from the occupied territories.
And this time, no order was issued that troops should fire tear gas canisters and stun grenades into the crowd, as happened during last Tuesday's peaceful protest, sending Israeli citizens and foreign nationals alike falling to the ground. Nor was anybody beaten or arrested, as has often happened at rallies in the past.
But there was no escape from repercussions for the soldiers who signed the petition, scores of whom have been suspended from duty, with others claiming they were court-martialed for such offenses as refusing to fire into a crowd of unarmed civilians.
"We all have limits," reserve Lt. David Zonshein, 28, said to Israel's best-selling newspaper, Yedioth Ahronoth. "You can be the best officer, always be first ... and suddenly you are asked to do things that should not be asked of you - to shoot people, to stop ambulances, to destroy houses in which you don't know if there are people living."
The reservists have refused to speak with the foreign press so as to avoid being part of an international campaign to denounce Israel. They needn't have feared talking to Americans, who'd more likely denounce them as traitors.
With good old Uncle Sam by his side for muscle, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon has shown countless times that he doesn't give a damn for world opinion.
Sharon flouts U.N. resolutions denouncing Israel, shelves the Mitchell Commission's recommendations for a political solution to the Palestinian crisis and altogether ignores humanitarian groups' reports about conditions in the occupied territories, whether they are international or Israeli.
As for the reservists' charges that they received orders they consider illegal - such as firing into a crowd of unarmed children - Sharon chose to deal with the far greater sin of the soldiers' dissent.
It will be "the beginning of the end of democracy if soldiers don't carry out the decisions of the elected government," Sharon charged, but he's got it the wrong way around.
It would be the beginning of a true democracy and the end of Sharon's political career.
Remember 12-year-old Rami al Dura, the trembling boy shot in September by Israeli Defense Forces while his father tried vainly to shield him?
So very disturbing, watching Rami die on TV - such a terrible image! We'd never forget it, we thought - but we managed.
Or else we would not have sat back from September 2000 through today while more than 200 Palestinian and Israeli children were killed and thousands injured so severely that they are unable to fend for themselves.
But Israel's young soldiers cannot forget these acts they have committed and witnessed. Nor can they take any comfort in the phrase, "I was just following orders," knowing that thin veil cannot hide the villains behind it from history.
Their refusal to serve is grounded "in moral reasons," they say on their website (http://www.seruv.org.il/defaultEng.asp).
And if Israel's war were "about apprehending potential terrorists" or "demolishing artillery positions that are shooting at Jewish settlements," they'd serve proudly. But more and more, it's about destroying a race of people.
"They are turning us into animals; they are giving free rein to the most sadistic elements among us," the dissident soldiers say on their website. "In all the accounts of the most vicious conflicts known to the 20th century, people have always lauded those few who refused to take part in the atrocities.
"This is now our moment of truth, and every one of us has to decide if he is or is not of the human race."
Now that we can't claim we didn't know, all that's left for us to do is take a stand.
Make a decision.
And live with it.